Lets Talk Documentation

So a while back, over a year at this point I talked about recognizing good vs less reliable sources. But I neglected to point out one very key thing:

Getting documentation in the first place is half luck, and half circumstance. But wait! You’d put a lot of time and energy and effort into your research! It’s work not luck! Allow me to be clear for the rest of this: I am not discounting the work and effort of research and writing. It’s hard, it’s time consuming, and if you’re not a research nerd it’s damn near torture.

But if you’re able to document what you’re doing as historical and appropriate to a specific place and time? You’re lucky. You’ve got sources to work from in the first place. The closer you are to present day the easier your research will be due to availability of sources in the first place. If you want to have, say, an accurate 1980s party you can talk to people who lived through it, and raid their closets for extant clothing. Having an 1880s party is a bit harder, but you have patterns and paintings and sketches and journals. You’ll need to compromise on what fabrics and techniques you use, but you can make reasonable substitutions fairly easily. 1780s has you relying on paintings and journals, still doable, but more wiggle room. 1680s? 1580s? The further back you go the less accurate and available your sources become. That’s not even getting into if they exist in a language you can read or a country that didn’t actively try to destroy them.

I do 950’s-ish Saxon. My sources are sketches in bibles, loom weights, a couple records of how we paid priests, and some bits of thread stuck to the back of metal that got mineralized rather than rotting. I’m lucky! I have sketches of how women’s outfits looked! I have scraps of thread and cloth that lets me guess at thread count! I have a hat with needle holes to tell me how big stitches were at a different place but within 100 or so years. I’ve also got contemporary textiles unearthed in Greenland, and a book about them that was translated into English.

I also have very fortunate circumstances that allow me access to sources that do exist. I’ve been given or loaned books, people have put the images online, I can get to them. I had the money and access to buy text books, and the materials to practice.

Compare that to someone trying to study Korean or Chinese or (gods help you) Tibetan anything. Sources either don’t exist because they were intentionally destroyed,  or they are so expensive to get a hold of that they may as well not exist.

So what can we do about it?

Share your sources. No, don’t put whole books of copyrighted information online. That’s bad, legally and will get you in trouble. But talk to people. Teach. Lend your books and articles, tell people where you found the information.

But dear sweet marshmallow fluff on toast don’t just tell someone they’re doing it wrong and walk off without offering to help.

And one more note, just because you *can* document something doesn’t mean you should recreate it. Lead make-up is a poor life choice, hemlock drinking bowls also a bad decision. Some things belong only in research papers, don’t hurt anyone.

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